Roman Reigns Wins the Royal Rumble Match
Going into the main event, the Royal Rumble PPV was on a great trajectory. Some of the undercard matches were surprisingly fun and the WWE Title match was a spectacle that will be remembered for generations. Even the Rumble match got off to a good start with some fun spots and surprise returns. Then came the last ten minutes of the match, which were a near worst case scenario for most fans. For the fourth consecutive year, fans were left shaking their heads at the end of the Rumble match when an unpopular babyface wrestler won the match to a chorus of boos and secured a title shot at Wrestlemania.
After the Miz and R-Truth started out with the first two numbers, Bubba Ray Dudley made a surprise return at #3. R-Truth played the role of Devon and they teamed up for a Wassup Headbutt and a 3-D on Miz. Dudley eventually eliminated both of them, but his short run is less important than the idea that such a talented veteran might be back with WWE full time.
The next phase of the match saw Bray Wyatt take over and dispatch each wrestler who got in his way, including the Boogeyman and his old teammates Luke Harper and Erick Rowan (who jumped Curtis Axel and took his spot).
The run of eliminations stopped when Daniel Bryan entered and tore through those in the ring. Diamond Dallas Page followed him and hit several Diamond Cutters on anyone he could find. Rusev entered next and cleaned house briefly. In the chaos, Wyatt eliminated Bryan, which shocked the live crowd and served as an omen for things to come.
Kofi Kingston entered shortly after and continued his tradition of creatively avoiding an elimination. When Adam Rose brought his Rosebuds to the ring, Kingston landed on them and got back in the ring. Despite his cleverness, he was quickly eliminated after reentry.
Roman Reigns hit the ring and the fans started to boo him immediately. He cleaned house and got the ring down to Rusev, Wyatt, and himself. When Dean Ambrose entered, he teamed up with Reigns to help with some eliminations, including a very quick dumping of Titus O’Neil.
Kane, Big Show, and Dolph Ziggler all entered near the end of the match. Kane and Big Show worked together to systematically eliminate The Authority’s enemies. They took out Ziggler fairly soon after he entered the match and got even more boos when they tossed Ambrose, as well. The teamwork was not compelling because there was never a feeling that either was a threat to win the match. Rusev had disappeared outside the ring without being eliminated, so it was sloppy that the bell rang when Reigns threw Kane and Big Show out together.
The big men came back and beat on the bloodied Reigns until The Rock’s music hit and he ran to the ring to save Reigns- and cynically try to transfer some of his popularity to his floundering relative. After Rock left, Rusev made his way back into the ring, Reigns hit him with a Spear, and he took the match legitimately.
The fan backlash against the Reigns win was severe. The crowd’s energy went down a big step when Bryan was eliminated and it never fully recovered. When Ambrose and Ziggler were unceremoniously dispatched, it felt like a slap in the face to everyone who has suffered through Reigns’s growing pains the last few months.
At least when Batista won last year, there was the built-in excuse that WWE painted itself into a corner by promising him the moon. This year, the dedication to the Reigns plan in the face of mounting evidence that he is far from ready is inexplicable.
In short, the result feels like paternalistic booking from promoters who think they know what fans want better than the fans do. I’m not one to say that the fans are always right- that’s how you end up with inconsistent, rapid-fire booking and no long term plan. But when the fans have almost unanimously made it clear what they don’t want, then what is the point in force feeding it anyway? That’s why my usual praise for sticking to a long term plan does not apply here; even the best plan has to be abandoned when it’s clearly failing.
Can the result be salvaged? Of course. Plenty of Wrestlemanias have had show-stealers outside of the title match. It’s even possible that Reigns could improve or that there’s a workable story with Lesnar as the face (make no mistake, Lesnar will be cheered as the face if the match goes down as it appears). What I don’t understand is why WWE would introduce that degree of difficulty when there are several better alternatives readily available.
Brock Lesnar def. Seth Rollins and John Cena in a Triple Threat Match to Retain the WWE Title
Before the dubious main event, Lesnar, Rollins, and Cena put on a performance for the ages in one of the most entertaining and compelling triple threat matches in history. Lesnar got a great reaction during the introductions and quickly went after his opponents with German Suplexes and even hit both members of J&J Security with one at the same time. He put Cena in a Kimura Lock and Cena lifted his way to his feet while Rollins came off the top rope with a flying knee to both of them.
Cena and Rollins briefly worked together on Lesnar and Cena was able to hit an AA. Rollins tried to steal the pin, but Lesnar kicked out at a count of one. Lesnar recovered and hit Cena with another German when he did the “You Can’t See Me” taunt to Rollins. Once Rollins recovered, hit a Shiranui on Cena and Lesnar broke up the pin. Rollins came off the top rope with a springboard toward Lesnar and Lesnar caught him in a fireman’s carry to hit an F5. Cena barely made it into the ring to save him from the pin.
Cena kept his attention focused on Lesnar and hit him with three consecutive AAs. Rollins prevented a pin and hit a Curb Stomp of his own, but Cena did not let him get the cover. Normally, a wrestler recovering from so many big moves would cheapen the moves, but the announcers did a great job to make Lesnar seem superhuman in his ability to recover.
The beating did not stop there, either. Cena took him outside the ring and threw him into the barricades before he hit him with a set of ring steps. He was left perched on the Spanish announce table and Rollins hit an incredible long distance elbow drop from the top rope in the ring. It looked extremely painful for both and EMTs came out to check on Lesnar.
Cena brought Rollins back in the ring and tried to attack, but Rollins nearly won with a sudden small package on Cena. He avoided an AA and tried a hurricanrana that Cena countered into a powerbomb for a near fall. After Rollins hit a sunset flip into a running buckle bomb, he went for the Curb Stomp and Cena was able to block it and counter into an STF. J&J Security saved him and started beating on Cena, only to get a double AA for their trouble.
Cena and Rollins traded near falls back and forth- an AA and a Curb Stomp both got two counts. Rollins went to the top rope and dug deep for a 360 corkscrew moonsault. It looked like that move would win the match, but Lesnar miraculously recovered to run in and hit Germans on both opponents. Rollins cracked Lesnar with the Money in the Bank briefcase. Before he could follow it with a Curb Stomp, Lesnar caught him with an F5 and finally got the win.
The problem with most matches that feature so many big spots and false finishes is that the spots get in the way of any discernable narrative. In this case, the wrestlers took enough time between moves to show a depth of emotion and tell a compelling story about Lesnar’s undying resilience. On top of that, the match beautifully showcased the unique types of strength and athleticism that each of the three wrestlers brings to the table.
Maybe even more so than when he ended Undertaker’s Streak or squashed Cena at Summerslam, Lesnar looks like an unconquerable monsters. Rollins also came out of the match looking more like a main eventer than ever. Cena can now shift his focus to Wrestlemania. He came out of the match without eating a pin and got into a tussle with Rusev backstage on the post-show, so it looks like the third match with Lesnar really was the final chapter for now.
The Usos def. The Mizes to Retain the Tag Team Titles
After a great many matches featuring these teams over the last two months, it was surprising that they were able to wrestle such a solid PPV match without verging on redundancy. Mizdow was at his parroting best and served as a human shield when Jey did a plancha to the floor. Jimmy tried a plancha of his own, but caught the top rope and crashed hard. The swing in momentum allowed Miz to hit a Skull Crushing Finale, though Jey managed to kick out at two. Jey recovered to hit a superkick and a splash that required Mizdow to run in and make a save. Mizdow hit Jey with his own Skull Crushing finale. Miz was still the legal man, and by the time he was able to make the cover, Jey managed to kick out at two. Jimmy finally recovered to superkick Miz while he was perched on the top rope and hit a splash to get the win.
It is time for both teams to move on to something else. They deserve a tip of the cap for finishing their program on a high note in this match. There was more tension than ever before between Miz and Mizdow on this night, particularly when Mizdow would not allow Miz to take his entry in the Rumble. They will likely initiate a true feud soon while the Usos move on to one of the other tag team challengers.
The Bellas def. Paige and Natalya
Natalya and Paige worked well together early in the match with a delay vertical suplex on Brie. As the match went on, they increasingly struggled with their teamwork as the Bellas cut off the ring and prevented Natalya from making a tag. The Bellas hit a cool double spinning toe hold move. Natalya tried to fight back with an Electric Chair to get a hot tag, but Brie pulled Paige off the apron. Nikki clocked the weary Natalya and got the pin for the win. Nikki has dispatched most of the top challengers in the Divas Division, so I am eager to see who will emerge as a new challenger.
The Ascension def. New Age Outlaws
It was not the typical Ascension squash, but this match did not last all that much longer. Road Dogg and Billy Gunn both looked very good in spite of their age, especially on Gunn’s great tilt-a-whirl slam. The Ascension fought back and isolated Gunn so that Road Dogg could not break up the pin when they hit the Fall of Man. With Bubba Ray Dudley in the Rumble, it does not take much originality to think that the Dudley Boys might be the next legendary tag team to challenge the Ascension.
Cesaro and Tyson Kidd def. New Day
The pre-show match was longer than usual and very good. In a harbinger of how the rest of the night would go, the fans quickly turned on the (barely) face New Day team and got fully behind Cesaro and Kidd. They used their assortment of double team moves including a new pin where Cesaro used his feet to prop up Kidd and give him extra leverage. In the end, Kidd put Kingston in the Sharpshooter and shortly after beat him with his swinging fisherman’s suplex. Although it has been a short program, now is a good time for these teams to go their separate ways. Kidd and Cesaro seem ready to challenge the Usos while New Day can continue their transition away from the cheerleader babyface personas.